R.I.P. Dame Elizabeth Taylor: A Guide To Her Essential Films
Art Attack is crying tears of White Diamonds perfume this morning at the news that Dame Elizabeth Taylor, star of some 70 films and television shows and a wife in eight marriages (two to the same man) has died.
She was 79 and was probably the last surviving starlet of the Golden Age of Hollywood.
In describing her contribution to Hollywood on Twitter this morning, Mo Rocca took the words right out of our mouth:
Taylor had a not-so-tenuous connection to Texas. She famously lived in Marfa for several months with costars James Dean and Rock Hudson during the filming of the ranch drama Giant.
She was also married, at age 19, to Conrad "Nicky" Hilton of the famous hotel family, and the wedding album from that marriage currently resides in the archives library of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston.
Art Attack's own obsession with the violet-eyed beauty began after we watched The Film That Changed Hollywood, a two-hour long documentary about the troubled filming of Cleopatra, a $44 million-dollar epic that was a critical success but a financial failure. It completely changed the big-movie studio system.
Taylor was always plagued with health problems. During the making of Cleopatra she became gravely ill and had to undergo an emergency tracheotomy, the scar from which was clearly visible in many of her later films. She was in her early 30s at the time and the illness forced the film even further off-schedule. Despite its setbacks, the movie remains one of the most visually spectacular films ever made in Hollywood (with almost no special effects, to boot.)
She also underwent surgery to treat a brain tumor, and had broken her back five times, which left her in a wheelchair for the final years of her life.
She first came to fame at the age of 12 in the family-friendly film National Velvet, where she played a girl who disguised herself as a male jockey in order to help her horse win a race. Six years later she would star opposite Montgomery Clift in the high drama A Place In The Sun, based on the death-penalty novel An American Tragedy. (That film also starred Shelley Winters, another Art Attack favorite.
Taylor embodied many looks in her career, transitioning easily from a prim 1950s teenager to a slinky feline in a silk slip as Maggie the Cat in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. In the 1960s, her Cleopatra look, huge mod hats and outrageous costume jewelry (who are we kidding, it was most likely all real) helped define the fashion of the era.
In 1966 she won an Oscar for the role of Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, for which she severely downplayed her beauty, dyeing her hair gray to play the bitchy wife of a college professor. Many attribute that win to starting the trend of Academy Awards for ugly-fied actresses. Getting angry, baby?
At the time, Taylor was halfway through her first marriage with costar Richard Burton, whom she met during the filming of Cleopatra while still married to Eddie Fisher (Princess Leia's father). Incidentally, she had previously broken up Eddie Fisher's marriage to Debbie Reynolds after the death of Fisher's best friend Michael Todd, who was also Taylor's third husband. Confused yet?
For Art Attack's money, the best example of Taylor and Burton's on-screen chemistry is the 1966 version of Taming of the Shrew.
It was also one of the last of Taylor's big hits. As the Cleopatra documentary explains, Hollywood had changed, and in the decades that followed Liz's work mainly consisted of television appearances -- she was on several soap operas and even had a cameo on The Simpsons.
She would also be known for her famous perfumes, her love and design of extravagant jewelry, and especially her work for AIDS patients.
Having just lost Jane Russell, Art Attack can only wonder which aging icon will be next. It's truly a sad day for lovers of Old Hollywood.
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